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Survive the Holidays Like the Amish By Amanda Flower

The Christmas and holiday season is a hectic time for everyone with extra commitments, parties, family gatherings, recipes, decorations, and shopping. The Amish may live a simpler life than most of us do, but they aren’t complete spared from the stress of the holidays. Here are some tips from the Amish that can help you make your holiday season simpler.

 

  • Remember that the holiday season is about family. It’s easy to forget why you’re running around, shopping, baking, and decorating. Try to focus on your family and not all the things to do. I know this is easier said than done.
  • Don’t over decorate. The Amish don’t even put up Christmas trees at Christmas. They may string some greenery over their fireplaces and doorways, but that’s about it. I’m not advocating for no Christmas trees. I love Christmas trees, but if your decorations feel like more like a chore than a show of merriment, try to scale back.
  • Focus on the children in your life. During the holiday many of the Amish schools have presentations and play put on by the children. This is one the biggest events that happen around the holidays for the Amish. Even if you don’t have children of your own, you can appreciate the children’s hard work to make the season even brighter.
  • Limit your gift giving. The Amish aren’t ones to go all out for Christmas gifts. In fact, they usually only give each other small handmade gifts and this is to close members of the family. I love gift giving, so I definitely can understand going overboard. Sometimes, I have remind myself that time with a person is more important than presents.

Continue reading “Survive the Holidays Like the Amish By Amanda Flower”

Lynn Cahoon

Dear Readers,

Kensington asked me to write a short letter about dogs. I’m not sure I can keep it short. Yes, I’m a dog person. My first dog was an all-black cocker-Pomeranian mix I named Cinderella. I remember reading my books to her and she was always by my side. But when I went off to college, I was pet-less until I moved in with my first husband.

We had all kinds of dogs. He bought and sold them like they were cars. I learned not to get too attached, which was hard. I had a white Maltese during this time. She lost her baby during delivery and cried for days. We also had a wolf-hybrid who liked to pick huckleberries off the bush and eat them.

When I divorced, I swore I’d stay pet-less. Mostly because I hated the thought of losing another one due to someone’s issues. Then my new boyfriend bought me a Pomeranian for my birthday.  Bella (I have a princess theme for names) was so small, she got lost in the grass in the front lawn that needed mowed. The next year we added Demon, another Pom, to our family. A few years later, with their last bunch of puppies, my now husband decided to keep one more. So Homer joined our forces.

We lost Bella a few years ago, but the boys are still with us. And they are my constant companions if I’m home. They sleep in my office and remind me to stand once an hour so I can take them outside. If I’m not home, they wait on the stairs for me to come back. They like my husband but they love me.  Continue reading “Lynn Cahoon”

Making Imperfect Quilts by Maddie Day

Making Imperfect Quilts

My name is Maddie Day and I’m an amateur quilter. There, I said it! I don’t make elaborate hand-quilted covers. I’m not a perfectionist cutter or seamstress, so sometimes corners don’t line up quite right. But I still think you can make beautiful hand-made gifts for friends and loved ones without spending all your time on it – or at least I can. Because I have books to write, after all.

My latest quilt was for my dear goddaughter’s new baby last fall. Anna and her mother (my best friend) have lived in West Africa. I have, too, and I made Anna’s baby quilt thirty-four years ago. My treasured “cloth bank” is still full of gorgeous fabrics from West Africa, so I put together a pretty, soft cover for little Cosima to cuddle in and play on.

But I “tied it through” as my mother used to call it – I ran embroidery thread at each corner from the top to the bottom and back up, then tied a square knot and clipped off the thread.

I did the same with a high-speed quilt I made for a dear friend who was dying of brain cancer a few years ago. She attended Quaker Meeting with me, and we both lived in Japan long ago. So I found some beautiful, warm Japanese fabrics and made a lap-sized cover with white squares interspersed. Continue reading “Making Imperfect Quilts by Maddie Day”

Making Imperfect Quilts by Maddie Day

My name is Maddie Day and I’m an amateur quilter. There, I said it! I don’t make elaborate hand-quilted covers. I’m not a perfectionist cutter or seamstress, so sometimes corners don’t line up quite right. But I still think you can make beautiful hand-made gifts for friends and loved ones without spending all your time on it – or at least I can. Because I have books to write, after all.

My latest quilt was for my dear goddaughter’s new baby last fall. Anna and her mother (my best friend) have lived in West Africa. I have, too, and I made Anna’s baby quilt thirty-four years ago. My treasured “cloth bank” is still full of gorgeous fabrics from West Africa, so I put together a pretty, soft cover for little Cosima to cuddle in and play on.

But I “tied it through” as my mother used to call it – I ran embroidery thread at each corner from the top to the bottom and back up, then tied a square knot and clipped off the thread.

I did the same with a high-speed quilt I made for a dear friend who was dying of brain cancer a few years ago. She attended Quaker Meeting with me, and we both lived in Japan long ago. So I found some beautiful, warm Japanese fabrics and made a lap-sized cover with white squares interspersed.

I took the white squares to church and had people sign messages to Susan and her husband. I tied that quilt through, too, and got it to her in time to provide some comfort.

My mother, who taught me to sew at a young age, was a master quilter in her retirement, turning out a hundred quilts for family members and charities. She had started a second full-size quilt for me, consulting with me about colors, but a minor stroke left her unable to continue. Continue reading “Making Imperfect Quilts by Maddie Day”

Hobby Blog Post by Jessica Pack

Years ago, writing was my hobby—the creative break I needed from day to day life. Now that writing is my work, I’ve had to find other hobbies to provide the much-needed creative breaks. Rather than finding one thing I put time into and develop, I have instead found dozens of mini-hobbies. The upside of having many hobbies, is that things are always fresh and new. The downside is that I never get very good at any one thing and it never goes quite to plan.

Last summer I went to   my cousin’s house and saw a version of a cinder block patio bench she and her husband had made. Genius! The DIY articles I looked up said that it was a two to four-hour project. My bench took approximately 15 hours. To make it, I purchased twenty-four cinder blocks, six cedar poles, spray paint, and liquid nails. You might notice that there are only twelve cinder blocks in the final product, that’s because I bought the cheaper ones online first and then had to buy the right ones. The twelve sub-par blocks have been put to work in other places around my yard. I also bought untreated (i.e. cheaper) cedar poles because I had some extra stain lying around—guess how long it takes to stain untreated cedar poles? I didn’t even count that time in my final tally. It’s a cool bench though, right? Unfortunately, it’s not very comfortable to sit on, the stock sizes of cushions don’t fit, and since most of my family is short, our feet don’t touch the ground when we sit on it. But it is sturdy, I tell you that.

Next, I stumbled upon cozy cross stitch designs with non-traditional phrases while scrolling Pinterest. Another brilliant idea! I messed up my counting in the upper right-hand corner and had to improvise but forty hours after starting, I had this spectacular piece of handwork. I showed it to a friend once I’d finished and she said that it was really good advice. I was too embarrassed to tell her it was lyrics from “Ice, Ice Baby.” Now it’s displayed in my living room and I watch to see if visitors get it or just think I’m advocating team work and organization.

My most recent hobby is an online vegetarian cooking course. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for a while but I struggle to know what to cook other than cookies, which are, in fact, vegetarian. My family has not enjoyed the bean paste with mushrooms, roasted balsamic yams, or quinoa salads as much as cookies. Fortunately, I have five weeks left in my course so I’m holding out hope that I’m going to be making some pretty amazing vegetarian dishes by the time I finish. Continue reading “Hobby Blog Post by Jessica Pack”

Historical Mysteries with Alyssa Maxwell

 

In the summer of 1898, reporter Emma Cross investigates a shocking death among the bright lights of Newport’s high society…

After a disappointing year as a society columnist for the Herald and staying with her more well-heeled Vanderbilt relatives in New York City, Emma has returned to the salty air, glittering ocean vistas, and grand stately mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, more determined than ever to report on hard news.

But for now she’s covering the social event of the season at Ochre Court, a coming-out ball designed to showcase Cleo Cooper-Smith, who will be literally on display, fittingly as Cleopatra, in an elaborate tableau vivant. Recently installed modern electricity will allow Miss Cooper-Smith to truly shine. But as the deb ascends to her place of honor, the ballroom is plunged into darkness. When the lights come back on, Cleo sits still on her throne, electrocuted to death.

Quickly establishing that the wiring was tampered with, Emma now has a murder to investigate. And the array of eligible suspects could fill another ballroom—from a shady New York real estate developer to a neglected sister and the mother of a spurned suitor. As Emma begins to discover this crime has unseen connections to a nefarious network, she puts her own life at risk to shine a light on the dark motives behind a merciless murder. Continue reading “Historical Mysteries with Alyssa Maxwell”

Lee Hollis Blog for Poppy Harmon

I’ve been asked many times, what I do for a hobby (or hobbies), and I’ve always reply with my two standard answers— cooking and reading. Secretly though I would love to include arts and crafts, but sadly I don’t have a crafty bone in my entire body!  A lot of my friends do, however, and their homemade projects look like they flew directly off the pages of Pinterest or a glossy magazine.

A few years back I decided to finally try one of those crafts projects after seeing so many successful ones posted online. I mean, honestly, how hard could it be?

Since it was close to Halloween I decided to make cement pumpkins by pouring cement into plastic pumpkins to mold their faces, and then I would paint them for cute Halloween decorations.

I have no idea why I thought this was a clever idea because we live a little off the beaten path, and we have never ever had even one kid show up at our door and say, “Trick or treat!” So there weren’t a lot of people, maybe the mailman or a Jehovah’s witness who would even see my hand-crafted cement pumpkins!

It also turned out to be a stressful experience making them. It was horribly messy, the cement took forever to dry in the plastic pumpkins, and once I finally got them out of the plastic they must have weighed at least 20 pounds apiece! Lifting them wasn’t pleasant all, oh and I forgot to mention, by the time they dried Halloween was over! Continue reading “Lee Hollis Blog for Poppy Harmon”

Benevolent Brewing by Sally MacKenzie

I’m the first to admit I’m not a historian. I set my books in Regency England (and a narrow slice of that—1816 to around 1820) because I read and loved Georgette Heyer when I was growing up. I’m more of an historical magpie, collecting details that catch my eye and weaving them together to form my story’s background. For my Widow’s Brew series, I mixed philanthropy with brewing.

A variety of charitable organizations of the 18th and 19th centuries aimed to help women and children. Two of them likely were part of my inspiration in naming my Benevolent Home for the Maintenance and Support of Spinsters, Widows, and Abandoned Women and their Unfortunate Children: the Foundling Hospital “for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children” and the Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes. Both were founded in the mid-1700s—and not by women. However, women—Hannah More, Catherine Cappe, Elizabeth Fry, etc.—were active in philanthropy at the time in areas such as female education, relief for the poor, and prison reform.

So, did women run British breweries, too? Er, no—or at least, not that I know of. There were indeed successful Regency businesswomen—Eleanor Coade, who developed, manufactured, and sold her eponymous Coade stone, an extremely durable material popular in outdoor sculptures and monuments, is a prime example. (Eleanor Coade was also a philanthropist—and specified in her will that some of her bequests were off limits to her beneficiaries’ husbands!) But by the Regency, women had left—or been pushed out of—for-profit brewing, thanks to the Industrial Revolution that turned brewing into a large commercial enterprise. Continue reading “Benevolent Brewing by Sally MacKenzie”

Vagabond Gardeners by Barb Hendee

When I was about twelve years old, my grandmother told me that she felt sorry for people who moved from one house or place to a new house or place in order try and leave their problems behind.

“The problems always follow them anyway,” she said.

Later, once I was old enough to understand this, it seemed to me that if negative things can follow us around, then so should all the positives. I’m one of those people who prefers to see the positive. If my partner, J.C., and I were characters from Winne-the-Pooh’s world, I’d be Tigger and he’d be Eeyore.

He and I have been married a long time. We’re sort of serial vagabonds… a pair of writers and academics who tend to live for five or six years in one place, making it into a home, and then we go somewhere else and make that place into a home. We’ve lived in Washington State, Northern Idaho, Colorado, and now Oregon.

But no matter where we’ve lived or how much (or how little) space we have outside the house or condo, we’ve always gone to work right away preparing and conditioning the soil so that we can grow our own fruits and vegetables. We always leave four to six blueberry bushes for the next people who will live in the space we’ve left behind. I think it’s a good motto to always leave blueberries for the next folks.  Continue reading “Vagabond Gardeners by Barb Hendee”

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